Book Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus, Vol. 3, Eric Powell et al. (2008)

Friday, April 11th, 2014

“Decapitation with a smile!”

four out of five stars

The third volume of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus features an even dozen stories, all of which are concurrent with Season 3 of the television series:

Wu-Tang Fang – The Scoobies dust the “Mickey Rourke of China,” a traveling vampire named San Sui who feeds on the blood of vanquished foes.

Halloween – The night before Halloween, Willow storms out of the house after an argument with the ‘rents, and swiftly falls into the clutches of a group of vamps.

Cold Turkey – Buffy brains a vamp with her frozen turkey when he tries to make a Thanksgiving meal out of her. The night shopping? Still more harrowing.

Dance With Me – When Buffy (repeatedly) turns Gary down at the dance, he decides to become a vampire so that she’ll have no choice but to pay attention to him.

White Christmas – Buffy takes a job selling popsicles at the mall, only to discover that her boss is summoning demons in the walk-in freezer. Choice quote: “I don’t wear clothes only to impress guys.”

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Book Review: Joss Whedon and Religion: Essays on an Angry Atheist’s Explorations of the Sacred, Anthony R. Mills, ed. (2013)

Wednesday, March 12th, 2014

“Oh…my…Goddess!” (In which an “angry atheist” is pleasantly surprised by a religious journey through the Whedonverse.)

four out of five stars

(Full disclosure: I received a free copy of this book for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

As a Joss Whedon fan and a fellow self-described “angry atheist,” I approached Joss Whedon and Religion: Essays on an Angry Atheist’s Explorations of the Sacred with some trepidation. Specifically, I was worried that the authors who contributed to this anthology – many of them theologians – might be dismissive of or downright hostile to Whedon’s beliefs. Happily, this isn’t the case. After all, many (if not all) of them are fellow Whedon fans, even if they don’t share in his atheism. While some authors are critical of certain aspects of Whedon’s work, I suspect that this primarily comes from a place of love: it’s those you respect most who have the greatest potential to let you down.

As with any anthology, Joss Whedon and Religion is a bit of a mixed bag, with all of the pieces trending toward “adequate” to “excellent.” Some authors are heavier on the academic jargon than others; overall, I found most of the contributions to be fairly readable. (Some of the heavier stuff is tempered by more enjoyable, in-depth discussions of, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Dollhouse. Warning: you will want to revisit your favorite shows by book’s end!) Occasionally, I had to take a breather to further research a specific topic, usually religious in nature; those who have a better background in religion (specifically Judeo-Christian) will no doubt have an easier time of it.

Due to the religious iconography prominently displayed on the cover (which is consistent with the Catholic imagery common to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel), I anticipated a largely Christian perspective. While I can’t comment on the authors’ personal religious convictions, I’m happy to report that they address a variety of religions and ethical systems, both mainstream and not: Wicca and witchcraft; ancient Greek and Roman gods and goddesses; the philosophies of Aristotle and Kant; even Ayn Rand gets a chapter (alongside Stan Lee, natch). A few essays don’t really seem to pay much mind to religion at all.

(In an especially amusing aside, Dean Kowalski gently pokes fun at K. Dale Koontz – who penned the forward – for reading too much religion into Whedon’s work, a criticism one could perhaps level at many of the contributors to this volume. See page 105.)

Of course, Christianity does receive the lion’s share of attention.

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Book Review: Fray, Joss Whedon et al. (2003)

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Girls & Monsters & Flying Cars

five out of five stars

In a world long without magicks and demons, what’s a Slayer to do?

If you’re 19-year-old Melaka Fray, you put your superhuman strength, dexterity, and resilience to use as a professional thief. Or “grabber,” in future slang. That it just so happens to frustrate your estranged big sister, who was recently promoted to sergeant in “the laws,” to no end? Icing on the cake!

Set in New York City hundreds of years in the future, Fray introduces us to a world (mostly) free of vampires. Locked away in another dimension by an unnamed 21st century Slayer, they’ve gradually and inexplicably been resurfacing in Mel’s neighborhood. Seemingly harmless and commonly mistaken for drug addicts or human mutants (which all too common given the regrettable state of the environment), few have paid these “lurkers” any mind. That is, until they begin to plot to open a gate to hell – and the next Slayer is called. Unfortunately, all the Watchers have since been bored into madness, and Mel’s hapless Watcher sets himself on fire at their first meeting. Standing in as Mel’s trainer and mentor is Urkonn, a goat-like demon with a mean punch and a shady agenda.

Though firmly rooted in the Buffyverse, Fray easily stands on its own. (One need not have prior experience with Buffy or Angel to enjoy Fray – though it’s highly recommended!) While the story is familiar – girl meets vampire, girl kills vampire – here it gets a futuristic makeover. Witty like a certain blonde we all know and love, Mel is nonetheless her own Slayer: brash, short-tempered, sticky-fingered, always willing to throw a punch for a friend or fellow “freak.” Juxtaposed with a dreary, dilapidated city landscape, Mel practically jumps off the page in her vivid blues, purples, and greens. The artwork contained within these pages is simply stunning.

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Book Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus, Vol. 2, Scott Allie, ed. (2007)

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Home is where the Hellmouth is!

four out of five stars

The second volume in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus is a bit of a mixed bag. Featuring diverse artwork from several distinctive artists, this a weird collection, chronologically speaking: we start out with two pre-season One stories, then it’s on to a few Spike and Dru tales; the next times we meet Buffy, it’s Seasons Two and Three, with Angel vacillating between good and evil. With all this jumping around, it can prove difficult at times to place the stories in the overall context of the show. That said, it’s still a (mostly) enjoyable collection.

My favorite piece by far is also the longest: “A Stake to the Heart,” which deals with the Summers’s divorce and Buffy, Dawn, and Joyce’s subsequent relocation to Sunnydale. In an effort to assume Buffy’s pain and self-doubt, Angel unwittingly unleashes malignancy demons on the Summers family. Aesthetically pleasing and unexpectedly touching, it alone is worth the price of admission. Also enjoyable is the short piece “Angels We Have Seen On High” – though there isn’t much by way of plot, the style is uncharacteristically “cartoony,” in editor Scott Allie’s words. Most likely you’ll love it or hate it. (Think: Puppet Angel.)

“Queen of Hearts,” “Paint the Town Red,” and “Ring of Fire” (the first two being Spike and Dru exclusives) are by Ryan Sook, “one of the most controversial artists to have worked on Buffy.” While I don’t mind his dark noir style, the characters are way off: Spike and Dru look a good fifty years older than the actors who play them. In the same vein, not all of the Scooby Gang is immediately recognizable in “The Dust Waltz”: Willow and Cordelia and nearly indistinguishable (Willow hair is a blah beige color!), and Xander has been transformed into quite the beefcake.

And then there’s the short piece “MacGuffins” – which might have been fun but for the artwork. Here we have a ridiculously (one might even say “comically” – hardee har har!) oversexualized Buffy, complete with larger-than-life breasts and legs spread wide for the male gaze in no less than three panels. At least “The Dust Waltz” compensated for Buffy’s exaggerated mammary glands by giving her oversized biceps to match.

As if one needs to improve upon Sarah Michelle Gellar. As if!

(This review is also available on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

Book Review: Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus, Volume 1, Joss Whedon, et al. (2007)

Friday, December 28th, 2012

From one Buffy fan to another

four out of five stars

Having discovered Joss Whedon through Firefly (and then only after the show had been off the air for a year!), I recently watched – devoured – Buffy the Vampire Slayer on Netflix. (I’m halfway through Angel now. No spoilers!) Missing the Scooby Gang something fierce, I decided to give the comics a try.

Much to my dismay, I’ve never really been able to get into comics or graphic novels. Though I love many of the stories and characters, the format just isn’t for me. Even so, I hoped I might enjoy Buffy, seeing as I already have a connection to the Buffyverse. The events in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus (also referred to as “Season 0”) are largely concurrent with those in the movie and series, in such a way that they help to flesh out the existing stories. (In contrast, the Season Eight comic book series picks up where “Chosen” left off.)

Volume 1 in the omnibus features five complete storylines: “All’s Fair,” which shows a slightly younger Dru and Spike terrorizing the 1933 World’s Fair in Chicago; “Buffy: The Origin,” an adaptation of Whedon’s screenplay; “Viva Las Buffy,” in which Buffy and Pike run away to Las Vegas post-prom, only to unwittingly stumble upon a casino full of vamps; “Dawn & Hoopy The Bear,” wherein a magical teddy bear meant for Buffy finds its way instead to Dawn; and “Slayer, Interrupted,” which elaborates on the time Buffy spent in a (demon infested, natch) mental institution.

While I initially found myself struggling to stay engaged, by the end of “Buffy: The Origin” I was hooked. The story arc in “All’s Fair” is rather lackluster – frankly, I would’ve liked to have seen more panels on the Boxer Rebellion – but the stories get progressively better, culminating with “Slayer, Interrupted.” Especially enjoyable is seeing Giles at home in England, in the spring of his career and already butting heads with the Watcher’s Council – and Angel, in his early days of Buffy brooding.

As you can infer from the fourth title in the series, Dawn exists in some of these story lines. Your feelings on this are likely to correspond with your feelings toward Dawn herself. I’m not particularly outraged at her inclusion, though I think the comic book series would be better off without her. I’d prefer the “truth” of what happened, not everyone’s manufactured memories of the events. Plus I’ve kind of had my share of whiny younger siblings, being the oldest of four kids myself.

Overall, I’m inclined to give Volume 1 of the Omnibus 3/5 stars, though I’m upgrading to four stars in the interest of fairness. (Like, what’s a non-fan of comic books doing reviewing a comic book?!) I’ll definitely keep reading the Omnibus series, though it’s doubtful that I’ll plow through it as quickly as I did the tv show. Fellow Buffy fans in need of a fix – give it a try, you might be surprised!

(This review is also posted on Amazon, Library Thing, and Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you’re so inclined.)

Book Review: Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey, Valerie Estelle Frankel (2012)

Friday, September 28th, 2012

(Full disclosure: I received a free advanced review copy of this book through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.)

The Slayer Who Would Be Queen

four out of five stars

A newbie Buffy fan like myself, I was super-excited when copies of Valerie Estelle Frankel’s Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey: Vampire Slayer as Feminine Chosen One were offered up for review through Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program. At the time I was just finishing up Season Seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and picking up Season One of the comics, so the timing was perfect – fresh as the material was in my head.

Frankel didn’t discover the show until long after the final episode had aired; but, once she did, she was quick to devour it all: BtVS, Angel, and the comics. As she watched, she also worked on an impromptu, 100-page draft comparing Buffy’s trials and tribulations to the classic hero’s journey, as described by mythologist Joseph Campbell. Eventually her thesis grew into Buffy and the Heroine’s Journey.

A “monomyth” that can be found in the great epics of every culture (see, e.g., Hercules, Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter), the Hero’s Journey takes a somewhat predictable path – beginning with the call to adventure and ending with the “freedom to live” – during the course of which the protagonist gains wisdom and self-knowledge and successfully grows into a fully integrated adult. Of course, many adventures are had along the way: the hero battles with (and triumphs over) a Dark Lord (his Shadow) who threatens the world; he meets his Princess, goddess of the forest and embodiment of the earth’s magic; and he battles monsters of all shapes and sizes. Perhaps he’s also accompanied by a trustworthy friend or two, who function as outward reflections of his inner self.

As articulated in a handy chart by Frankel, Campbell’s Hero’s Journey includes:

* World of Common Day
* Call to Adventure
* Refusal of The Call
* Supernatural Aid
* Crossing The First Threshold
* Belly of the Whale
* Road of Trials
* Meeting with The Goddess
* Woman as Temptress
* Atonement with The Father
* Apotheosis
* The Ultimate Boon
* The Refusal of the Return
* The Magic Flight
* Rescue from Within
* Return
* Master of Two Worlds
* Freedom to Live

In contrast, Frankel offers up a different – but oftentimes parallel – outline of The Heroine’s Journey:

* World of Common Day
* Call to Adventure: A Desire to Reconnect with the Feminine
* Refusal of The Call
* The Ruthless Mentor and the Bladeless Talisman
* Crossing the First Threshold: Opening One’s Senses
* Sidekicks, Trials, Adversaries
* Wedding the Animus
* Facing Bluebeard
* Sensitive Man as Completion
* Confronting the Powerless Father
* Descent into Darkness
* Atonement with the Mother
* Apotheosis through Accepting One’s Feminine Side
* Reward: Winning the Family
* Torn Desires
* The Magic Flight
* Reinstating the Family
* Power of Life and Death
* Ascension of the New Mother

As you can see, many of the points on these paths are quite similar, with nearly all of the differences hinging upon the hero’s gender. (Paging Captain Obvious!) For example, while the male hero has daddy issues (the mother being largely absent), the heroine is plagued with mommy problems – and a weak father (and/or father figure), to boot. Whereas the hero will be seduced by a woman (“Woman as Temptress”), the heroine must remain vigilant against intimate partner violence (“Facing Bluebeard”). The hero meets and falls in love with a mysterious princess/goddess who introduces him to the magic of nature, whereas the heroine must wed the animus – her dark, masculine Shadow Self.

Drawing upon the whole of Buffyverse canon – the 1992 film, seven seasons of Buffy, five seasons of Angel, and Seasons One and Eight of the comic – Frankel elucidates the ways in which Buffy’s journey functions as a “perfect example” (I’m paraphrasing) of The Heroine’s Journey. Xander (passionate, practical) and Willow (innocent, intelligent) can be read as aspects of Buffy’s self, manifested externally, which must be nurtured and protected at all costs. Giles is both a manly guardian of knowledge and a (physically) powerless father (figure; Buffy’s actual father is both powerless and largely absent from her life). Maggie Walsh and Glory are Terrible Mothers – destructive forces that Buffy must avoid succumbing to. Whereas Joyce vacillates between a Good Mother and a mother who is at best oblivious to her daughter’s needs, Tara acts as a surrogate Good Mother in the wake of Joyce’s death; after Tara is murdered, Buffy must integrate Tara’s goodness into her own psyche, so that she can care for her little sister/adopted daughter Dawn. As Buffy confronts and defeats increasingly disturbing and powerful opponents – absorbing their darkness into her Self – she matures. So do her weapons: from a common crossbow (which allows to her keep a relatively safe distance from vamps), to a masculine, army-issued rocket launcher, culminating in the ultra-powerful, ultra-ancient scythe, which helps to unleash the power of the feminine so that all women are potential slayers.

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Today is (Women) Read Comics in Public Day!

Tuesday, August 28th, 2012

2012-08-28 - Reading Buffy in Public - 0016

 

In honor of the occasion, here I am reading Volume 1 of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Omnibus at the park! I recently finished watching the series on Netflix for the first time (Late to the party much? & also: SO MANY FEELINGS!) & couldn’t stand for it to end, so I decided to give the comics a try. As of this evening, I’m also three episodes into Angel. (Oz!)

Anyway, if you identify as a woman and would like to participate, the tumblr womenreadcomicsinpublicagain.tumblr.com is taking submissions all week! The event coincides with the annual Read Comics in Public Day event, and is “designed to show the scope and diversity of female comic readers.”

I’m kind of a newbie – other than Buffy, the only other series I’ve read is The Walking Dead – and not really the best person to hit up for recommendations. But I’ll take ’em if you’ve got ’em! Hint: strong women are a must. (Comic book creators, pay attention. If I find a series I love, I will buy all the things!)

This particular collection was a birthday gift from mom. Yay mom!

PS – Here I am!